I see The Circle as an updated version of Brave New World or 1984, but with enough resemblance to the current realities of computer culture and the tech sector that the reader can imagine a not-so-distant future coming on as told.
You could read this book as a scathing review of corporate tech companies, monopolies, and invasion of privacy, yet the story shows plenty of characters and sides of characters who are uneasy and unclear on the right ways to employ technology. The best example is the main character, Mae, who scores a job at The Circle because of her friendship to an influential Circler named Annie. Thanks to Annie, Mae is spared working for a company in her hometown that is painted as outdated in both scope and approach. Mae is instead given the priveledge of working at The Circle, a #1 company in the San Francisco Bay Area (fake) town of San Vincenzo. The Circle is an empire setting out to intercept and raise the bar on everything from lunchroom vegetarian options to fighting crime.
When Mae begins her new job, she is not a power social media user and values her offline time, but soon enough the company’s non-mandatory but encouraged 24-hour culture consumes her independence, rewarding her only for sharing her “knowledge,” ie everything, in a permanent digital format. Mae is swayed again and again to new levels of thought by her overwhelming desire to maintain job security and prestige.
You could call this book cliché, because A) somewhat like Portlandia, the self-aware content doesn’t necessarily prompt more than shared agreement, and B) it’s written by Dave Eggers and, as usual, we are getting almost exactly what we expect from Dave Eggers. Still, Dave Eggers can write. There is a reason why we have expectations at all. He can make us laugh out loud, especially us San Franciscans, when he writes in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius “those fucking buses attached to the ropes or wires or whatever, always breaking down, those motherfucking drivers getting out and yanking on that rope, the stupid buses just sitting there, in the way, everything just sitting there, stuck, in the way—.” He can also make us mad at injustice (the entire book Zeitoun, for example). And now with The Circle he does both of these things with an 8-ball view into next year— or next month— that is relevant whether we embrace technology or resist it.
• If you like creepy technological possibilities of the not-so-distant future, check out the BBC show Black Mirror.
• The book cover was designed by Jessica Hische, a “letterer and illustrator,” who simultaneously designed a book cover for the story AND a logo for the corporation in the story. Pretty cool.